SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF THE NAHB IN 2005 was truly the experience of a lifetime. I had the honor of leading one of the most effective trade associations in the nation, and I saw firsthand our industry's overwhelming compassion, our ability to mobilize on behalf of housing, and just how influential our grassroots members can be.
THE DISASTER RELIEF None of us will ever forget the devastation spawned by the storms of summer, especially Hurricane Katrina. I'm very proud that the NAHB opened its heart to the victims of these terrible national disasters with donations of $500,000 to both the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross. I'm equally proud that we set aside another $1 million to help our own members in the affected areas and created the permanent Home Building Industry Disaster Relief Fund to help rebuild the residential construction industry in areas affected by natural disasters.
THE REFORM RESPONSE Our ability to mobilize on behalf of housing was vividly demonstrated by our rapid response to threats to the mortgage interest deduction and other housing tax incentives. Based on early information, we developed a multipronged advocacy strategy and went to the media and the public in support of maintaining existing homeownership tax incentives even before the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform proposed replacing the mortgage interest deduction with a limited tax credit.
When the panel released its recommendations, our worst fears were confirmed. In addition to ending the mortgage deduction, the panel proposed eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes (including property taxes), the deduction for interest on home equity loans, the deduction for mortgage interest on second homes, and the low-income housing tax credit. The result of such a radical departure from the nation's decades-long commitment to tax policies that promote homeownership would be the largest tax hike ever for homeowners. It also would drop home values and slow the housing economy at a time when we are already anticipating a decline in housing construction.
Our effort to stave off these ill-considered changes went into high gear. Armed with a thorough analysis of the effects the proposals would have, we fielded press calls from some of the nation's most influential media. We conducted a survey that showed taxpayers disapprove of the proposals and took that data to the media via a well-attended telephone press conference. We took the message to our members and the public via the Nation's Building News and NAHB.org, mobilized key congressional contacts, and provided our affiliates with materials for alerting their members and the public about the proposals. Additionally, we began working with members of Congress and the federal agencies to determine where they stand on these proposals and to build support for existing tax incentives.
It is difficult to predict whether Congress will consider the tax panel's proposals. However, I am confident we have laid the groundwork for whatever effort is necessary to prevent such ill-considered changes to the tax code and have reinforced the importance of the housing and homeownership tax incentives in the minds of the public, the press, and our elected leaders.
THE UNEXPECTED APOLOGY The year also showed just how influential our members can be. In a September interview of Donald Trump, television journalist Bill O'Reilly described the home building industry as “corrupt.” Following a storm of protest from NAHB members, he invited me to appear on The O'Reilly Factor. After replaying a clip and discussing the character of the home building industry with me, O'Reilly conceded he had gone too far. And in an almost unprecedented turn of events in TV journalism, he apologized to the housing industry.
I greatly appreciated O'Reilly's willingness to reflect on his comment, to invite me on his show to set the record straight, and to make such a gracious apology. But I have no doubt that in the fast-paced world of television, his apology—heartfelt as it was—would never have occurred if the NAHB's grassroots members hadn't vehemently protested his original remark.
That apology—and so much more that we accomplished in 2005—is due to you, my friends, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
President, NAHB Washington, D.C.
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